The Mobile and Symmetrical Cyclist
Cycling with Kierstin Kloecker
Cycling is great for the body, right? Well, yes and no. As an avid cyclist since age seven and a personal trainer and cycling coach since 1992, I can say that although cycling is great for the cardiovascular system, as well as leg/hip/glute strength, it is actually quite terrible for the back and neck.
You see, cycling forces us into a constant state of flexion (something most of us get too much of anyway by sitting at desks, on couches and in cars). By keeping our bodies in a forward fold, our hip flexors shorten, forcing strain on our lower back. To be able see out in front of us, we cyclists often look up with our neck and head versus just our eyes, placing our neck and jaw out of its natural alignment. And we can’t forget what having our arms in front of us, loaded with some of our body weight, does to our shoulders and wrists.
Okay, don’t get too worried. I’m not suggesting anyone stops riding, since it is, after all, my favorite form of exercise, as well. I am, however, saying that we need to reverse some of the damage being on a bicycle does to our bodies. Although I like weight lifting, and find it can be very useful to strengthen the back side of our bodies for cycling, I tend to prefer yoga to re-align and open our bodies.
About 11 years ago, I got certified in yoga. Since then, I have been studying my clients bodies and using the yoga practice to help them achieve their full potential in sports. I have found it especially useful for my cyclists and paddlers, since both are done in the seated position. The first thing I do is assess the pelvic alignment, shoulder girdle alignment and neck/head alignment. From there, I design a series of asanas (yoga poses) to help them find not only balance, but increase strength and lung capacity. Think about it, if you’re in a constant slouch, there is no way your lungs can work well. And if your pelvis is out of alignment, you may not be able to fire your glutes for climbing.
Over the years, I have found several exercises to be beneficial to most cyclists. Of course there are always some contraindications, and you should always check with your physician before starting new forms of exercise, but for the most part, the cyclists I coach have seen massive improvements with not only how they feel on the bike, but also how they feel when they get off the bike.
The following pictures will come with an explanation about why the exercise should be done and where you should be feeling it. It’s important that you do these after a warm up or after several minutes of sun salutations. Do not, under any circumstances, go to the point of pain. And please work your tight or weak side first – using it as a guide for your more flexible side. Symmetry from left to right is very important and we want your tight side to catch up with your more mobile side. Since no change occurs overnight, it’s best to hold each position for at least a minute to fully relax into the pose. If possible, do each pose several times each week.
Used to promote spinal flexibility (something lost when stuck in the forward flexion position on a bike). Make sure your spine is in neutral. Use a yoga block or pillow if your IT band or spine is too tight for your legs to touch the ground.
One of the best hip flexor openers. This exercise reverses what sitting at a desk or on a bike does. Make sure your hips and shoulders are “square” to the ground and your knees are in alignment. If your knee hurts in this position, try it with a yoga strap to lessen the bend in the knee.
Opens the glute and piriformis, which get tight after a lot of climbing. Again, make sure your hips are square to the ground. Use a block or pillow if need be under the hip being stretched. Open your chest and lengthen your spine versus collapsing into a low position.
Helps open shoulders and chest, which when tight lead to minimized lung volume. This also helps prevent shoulder issues which are common in cyclists. Make sure your spine is in neutral. Lengthen the yoga strap or hand towel behind you to promote better spinal and neck alignment.
Strengthens the glutes and back as well as opening the chest and hip flexors. Make sure your shoulders are firmly planted on the ground and the back of your neck is long.